MESA, Ariz. – Sacramento State came back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to force extra innings but could not rally a third time as Utah Valley scored a go-ahead run in the top of the tenth inning and finished a 3-2 win in the opening game of the 2015 WAC Tournament Wednesday in Mesa.
No. 4-seeded Sacramento State (30-26) will play at 11 a.m. Thursday in an elimination game against No. 6 seed Northern Colorado, which lost 7-2 to North Dakota Wednesday night. The Hornets are not in an unfamiliar position, however, as the squad also dropped its first tournament game last season before winning four straight games to claim the league title.
The No. 5 seed in the tournament, Utah Valley (19-33) improved to 3-1 against Sacramento State this season after the Hornets beat the Wolverines in consecutive championship games to win the 2014 tournament. UVU had taken 2-of-3 from Sacramento State in Orem during the regular season.
The pitching matchup on Wednesday between Hornet sophomore Sam Long and Wolverine freshman Jackson Cofer was a rematch of a game Utah Valley won 11-9 on April 11. Both starters did not make it past the fifth inning in that high-scoring affair but it was a much different story in the rematch.
Long went nine full innings, allowing just two runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts. Cofer did not allow an earned run and permitted only three hits and three walks over 7.1 innings, his longest career outing, as both starters limited baserunners and pitched well in tight spots.
The only earned run that Long allowed came with two outs in the first inning when Utah Valley designated hitter Craig Brinkerhoff hit a solo home run. The Hornets tied the score in the third inning when sophomore Gunner Pollman singled, reached second on a passed ball, and scored on a two-out RBI double down the right field line from junior Nathan Lukes.
The Hornets had base runners in four of the next five innings but could not score behind Cofer's pitching and several brilliant defensive plays behind him. Long retired 13 straight batters at one point and kept the Wolverines off balance into the ninth inning.
With the score still 1-1 UVU opened the inning with an infield single from Mark Krueger, who advanced to second on a Hornet throwing error. A balk moved Krueger to third with nobody out and Brinkerhoff brought him in on a bloop single to center.
Long got out of the inning without further damage and the Hornets rallied against closer Kyle Valgardson in the bottom half. Freshman Vinny Esposito and junior Chris Lewis reached on consecutive singles and freshman Dan Deely brought in the tying run from third on a fielder's choice.
In the 10th inning, Hornet junior reliever Tyler Beardsley got the first out before center fielder Seth Rhineer bounced a double down the left field line. A fine leaping grab in right by Lukes got the second out of the inning, but with two away it was Brinkerhoff that came through again. He grounded a 2-0 single on the right side that was stopped on a dive by Devin Lehman in shallow right field but Rhineer never broke stride around third and came in to score from second base.
Valgardson's second attempt to close out the game was successful in the bottom of the inning as he set down the Hornets on just four pitches to end the game.
Utah Valley outhit the Hornets 7-5 and both teams left seven men on base. No Sacramento State player had more than one hit while Brinkerhoff drove in all three UVU runs with three hits and Krueger was 2-for-4. Hornet senior Scotty Burcham saw his career long 16-game hitting streak come to an end, going hitless in five at-bats.
The Hornets swept Northern Colorado in three games during the regular season, outscoring the Bears 25-7 in a series that was moved to Sacramento due to inclement weather.